When it comes to relationship drama, the White House has been serving it up hot.
We’ve got love triangles, cheating scandals, cheating scandal cover-ups, and shady payoffs that lead to door-busting FBI raids. But even though it feels like every day brings a new, juicy morsel of #hotgoss to the table (read: Twitter), we know surprisingly little about the most visible relationship of them all—that is, the one between Melania and Donald.
Social media users have expressed empathy for the First Lady in the wake of the Stormy Daniels scandal, which only broke in January. However, Melania herself has not addressed the ways in which her husband's alleged affair with the adult film actress (which is purported to have taken place right after Melania gave birth to their son, Baron) has affected her.
In the absence of concrete narrative, we decided to consult Patti Wood, author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language & Charisma, to see if Melania's body language has betrayed any clues about her feelings toward the president—both before and after the scandal broke.
After all, rumor has it things between the First Couple have always been rocky, and it’s long been speculated that they don't share a bedroom. But before we get carried away with conjecture, read on for what Wood has to say about the emotions—or lack thereof—Melania is signaling to us while out with her husband.
The date/timeline: November 30, 2017, a little over a month before the scandal broke.
The situation: The annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in Washington D.C.
What Wood says: Melania doesn't want to be there, but Trump doesn't seem to care.
"If you look at his clasp, he’s grabbing—the pressure is causing wrinkles of the skin. That’s a grab," Wood explained. "That doesn’t mean affectionate, loving couples don’t [grab] like that," she continued, "but it is different than a hand hold. You can see she’s holding her hand up rather than relaxing into it."
Wood goes on to explain that a combination of the tensions in her upper fingers ("they're rigid, not rounded") along with her "sour" facial expression says, "I don't want to be doing this."
She also points to the fact that Trump has crossed the "invisible center line" between couples. Wood notes that he is making a far greater effort than Melania by extending his arm across her body. Usually, she adds, a couple in celebration will maintain that invisible center line, indicating that they are equally joyous.
Drawing on her past analysis of the First Couple, Wood says this equality used to be a hallmark of their own relationship. But not anymore.
The date/timeline: April 17, 2018, three months after the Stormy Daniels scandal broke.
The situation: The President and First Lady were spotted walking together in Palm Beach, Florida ahead of the arrival of Japan's Prime Minister. Prior to this photo opp, the First Lady had stayed relatively out of sight while the Daniels scandal hit the fan.
What Wood says: The optics are good.
"There’s things about this that seem great [about their body language]," she says. "I like that he is holding her hand upwards. I like that they’re holding hands period. They’re pretty much in step—it’s opposite feet, I’d like it to be the same step so they’d be matching and mirroring—but I like that she’s smiling."
She noticed, however, a hint that her smile was "fixed."
"I wish that the smile wasn’t so fixed on her face," says Wood. "It’s not soft. I now know, after comparing her smiles and her demeanor and her relaxed posture with other people, that there’s a difference." She continues that though there are a few signs that would normally read as positive ("I like that she has at least that one forearm and hand extended toward him, and I like that her shoulders are slightly more relaxed than normal") the spark usually witnessed in couples is missing. "I don’t feel like it’s as warm as I’d like it to be. But it is a handhold and she is smiling. So it’s interesting."
The date/timeline: April 24, 2018, one week before Rudy Guiliani confirmed that Trump had reimbursed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, for his hush payment to Stormy Daniels.
The situation: Donald and Melania welcome the French president to the White House.
What Wood says: Melania looks like a corpse.
"If you looked at that picture, you could put her inside of a coffin—which I’ve never said about any body language I’ve read before," notes Wood. "Even her eyes are closed."
She continues, "The way her arms are down at her side, the resignation on her face, it’s just like, ‘I’m going to feel nothing, I will feel nothing.’" The white-on-white Michael Kors look, which made waves in the media thanks to that hat, is also of note to our body language expert. "She has the big belt wrapped around her and the hat wrapped around her, plus it’s the color of blamelessness, of innocence."
VIDEO: See Melania Trump's Latest Awkward Hand-Holding Moment
And then there was that hand-hold attempt ... "[Donald] made an attempt like a little kid—it was several attempts to get her to respond to him without him having to make an enormous amount of effort," she says, "and that lets me know that the ritual is that he makes a little bit of an attempt, and she gives in. This time, his effort was so tiny, so small, it was as if he didn’t want anyone else to know that he was doing it, that he was putting in effort."
"You see by his facial expression that he’s not expecting [the hand-hold] to bring him pleasure, he knows something is wrong," she continues, referencing his down-turned lips. "The whole head and body is facing forward, there’s no leaning, or head motion. There’s no indication that he’s connecting with her at any part of his body aside from the little finger."
The date/timeline: April 25, 2018, the day following the hand-hold debacle, which was widely blown up in the media.
The situation: Taking photos with French president and French First Lady Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron ahead of the first State Dinner.
What Wood says: Melania's expression shows "slight fear."
"If you look at Melania and Trump, his face has just such a grimace of anger," says Wood. "If he was your dad, you would think, ‘Oh I’m in really big trouble right now'—and that’s not what you want to see in the situation when you’re standing next to your partner."
As for Melania, Wood notes that the visible whites of her eyes indicate a "slight fear."
"If you look just at the eye, you can see the whites, there’s a little bit of anger, too, but the fear is bigger. If you look at the mouth, you can see a little bit about how it’s held in open, and that says she doesn’t know what’s going to happen next."
The discomfort is especially more stark when compared to the body language of French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron. "What’s interesting on [Brigitte] is you can see she’s containing a laugh, a smile," says Wood. "Her eyes have happiness in them. Even though her lips are closed, they’re lifted up. She’s holding in a smile."
Like Trump, Emmanuel's expression is "very serious," but his handhold denotes a warmth. "See the difference in how close their forearms are as they hold each other? That’s very different, they do this really nice long lovely V and then they’re holding hands at the bottom of it. That’s affection. You can tell when you’re looking at them that they’re a couple."
The date/timeline: May 9, 2018, a few days after the Giuliani revelation, in which it was revealed that Trump knew of the Stormy Daniels scandal. The blowback included intense media scrutiny of the First Couple's relationship.
The situation: A White House event to celebrate military mothers and spouses.
What Wood says: It's strained.
"The fingers straight and rigid, not relaxed," says Wood. "They’re not rounded, it’s not a holding motion." Both of Melania's hands, pressed flat onto the President's forearm and back, are indicative of insincerity, she adds. The lack of rounded fingertips is evidence of a stressed, rather than loving embrace. "The thumb is resting rather than wrapped around, it’s very unnatural. See how flat it is? That’s almost a repellant motion."
Our conclusion: They're a bit off–but they've been that way long before the Stormy Daniels scandal.
Considering that their pre-scandal body language didn't necessarily portray a loving, happy relationship, it would be impossible to conclusively state that the scandal had drastically altered Melania and Trump's relationship. What it does say, however, is that they're going through the motions to improve the optics—but small giveaways (the tense hands, the unrounded fingertips) are betraying a discomfort.
We don't know if the source of the discomfort will ever be revealed, but we know we'd watch that drama, even if it was fictionalized. Paging Lifetime.